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By Zachery Per and James Apa Gumuno

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, Mar. 8) - Floodwaters have destroyed homes and food gardens and forced the evacuation of more than 10,000 people living along the banks of the Waghi river in Papua New Guinea’s Western Highlands since Friday night.

Urgent supplies, including thousands of liters of diesel, have also been stranded in Kundiawa Chimbu province after floodwaters badly damaged a bridge near Kudjip and washed away parts of the Highlands Highway.

Precious livestock has also perished in swollen rivers.

Heavy rain has pounded the region for the past two weeks, causing rivers like Waghi, Komon, Minj, Tuman and Kane to rise.

The rains will affect major coffee and tea growers in Anglimp, Aviamp and Kudjip who are entering a new season.

A former journalist travelling from Kudjip to Goroka yesterday said many families were in desperate need of shelter, clothing and food.

Willie Palme also suggested that the National Weather Services issue weather advisories to enable the people to be better prepared.

In Kundiawa, several truck drivers could do nothing but hope for the weather to improve and for road repairs to be carried out as soon as possible. 

They were transporting some 200 tons of barite (a chemical used to dissolve rocks to abstract minerals) and diesel between Kundiawa and the Porgera gold mine in Enga province and the Kutubu oil field when they got cut off.

They told The National that floodwaters had ripped off part of the bridge at Kudjip, reducing it to one lane. It was passable to small vehicles but not safe for their heavy trucks, said one driver.

The drivers also expressed hope that their employers would send help as they had no little money and no place to stay. The highway has been damaged in two areas - in Henganofi in the Eastern Highlands and in Kudjip, but the damage in Kudjip was worse.

Western Highlands provincial work manager, Ponege Poya, said yesterday the culvert at Kudjip end of the road has collapsed due to corrosion and years of withstanding the load from trucks that pass through that part of the highway. 

"It just carved in and collapsed," he said.

Mr Poya said due to the bad weather and non-availability of culverts, the problem will not be attended to for a few days yet. He said a private contractor was ordering the culverts from Australia, and they would start work once the materials arrive.

Also yesterday, Mr Greame Ross, the managing director of Alele, the leading vegetables buyer in the Western Highlands province, admitted the problem with the highway was affecting their business.

Mr Ross said they were finding it difficult to get their fresh vegetables to Lae. He tried on Saturday and Sunday to get his trucks through, but failed. He said his company was reducing stock, and this was affecting business with their usual local suppliers.

March 9, 2004

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